The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America
No trip to the Black Hills — spanning western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming — would be complete without a trip to Devils Tower, named our first National Monument of the United States in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It’s impressive on its own — without any fanfare, night show, restaurants, or gift shop. Just an awesome structure worthy of your visit.
Although geologists have studied Devils Tower for years, the mystery of its formation still remains. According to the National Park Service site, “the Tower is formed of a rare igneous rock, phonolite porphyry, and is the largest example of columnar jointing in the world.” And perhaps it is this rare rock formation — standing alone — that captures your attention even as you drive toward it on Wyoming Hwy. 24.
When you get there, you’ll find that the Tower is the center of attention. Some of you may remember Devils Tower for its appearance in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But the whole site around it is also remarkable for respecting the natural beauty of the landscape and the Native American tribes who revere it as a cultural and sacred site.
We chose to walk the 1.3-mile trail around the base, giving us an up-close, yet distant, look at the structure. We could have been a little more adventurous, climbing over some of the boulders in Boulder Field that surrounds Devils Tower, but we stayed on the path. Although Devils Tower was formed about 50 million years ago, you probably don’t have to worry about falling rock. Fortunately, there hasn’t been a fall in the last 200 years!
As rangers explained to us, climbing is allowed on Devils Tower during all but two months: April when it’s closed to protect nesting falcons and June in respect for Native American cultural values related to the Tower. (Many people feel that climbing on the Tower could be perceived as disrespectful since the site is culturally significant for indigenuous people such as the Lakota, Cheyenne, Shoshone and others.)
We marveled at Devils Tower standing 867 feet tall and boasting a summit of 1.5 acres, about the size of a football field. That summit is said to be slightly dome shaped, covered with native grasses, and home to chipmunks, mice, and snakes — but you’ll have to verify this and let us know!
We were taken by the quiet movement of the people who came to visit and how they, too, were in awe of the formation just as we were. The National Park Service does a great job of maintaining the area to focus on natural beauty and the protection of wildlife. (We loved seeing prairie dogs playing nearby!)
Access to Devils Tower is easy from several directions. It’s about an hour from Spearfish along I-90 W and US 14 W; from Rapid City approximately an hour and forty minutes using I-90.
Devils Tower is a place to visit for hiking or climbing or just marveling at an awesome natural site. If you’re visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota, you’ll want to make the short trip to Devils Tower, Wyoming, just for the sight you’ll see. Planning tips and explanations are all available on the National Park Service website.
Here’s to travel in the good ol’ U.S. of A,
Rusha & Bert
For more information, these two publications are invaluable for your trip: